Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thoughts on occupation.

Like any thing popular, once something gets a following, people want to harness that energy for their own purposes. It is one of the most fundamental parts of our society. Artists don't create screen plays so commercials can play in the intermissions, but it is a fact of life.

My understanding of the occupation protests was basically that it targeted the universal apathy in the political system towards the issues the public cares about. What do progressives, libertarians, conservatives, socialists, environmentalists and a host of other social entities all have in common? None of us are getting heard on capital hill. If you read my posts about red vs blue and wedge issues voting, then you probably understand a bit about my views on this.

What has happened since, from my perspective, is the division of a movement with great promise into many small efforts with good causes. Sure, many of the action groups that have splintered off of GA's are fighting for things I agree with, but weather they have been intentionally co-opted or if it is just like minded people supporting one another, they are missing the point.

A rising tide lifts all boats. If we remind our selves that this is not a political movement, but an empowering one, we might be able to put aside our causes (no matter how worthy they may be) and fight the real battle of bringing our country back into a representative democracy rather than a for sale to the highest bidder kleptocracy. Once all americans have an equal voice again, those causes with the most support cannot help but be redeemed.

I think most of us will agree that the founding fathers would weep if they saw what has become of their ideals. It is time to build on what we do agree on, and not let our differences divide us any longer, we can save that battle for when it really counts, when we can actually make a difference.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Transparency in the information age.

The new anonymous in the age of paranoia is total transparency. The facebook generation has it down. If you are really interested you can see what people had for dinner last night, what movie they liked last week, what book they hated a month ago, etc. So what does this have to do with anonymity? Quite a bit. There is so much information available in the world about me, some I am sure I am not even aware of, that you would have to sift through quite a bit of profile blurbs and book quotations to find anything truly damning.

This growing maelstrom of raw data is impossible to prevent, unless you want to crawl into a cave and live off berries and rodent meat the rest of your life. Credit card transactions, phone and bank records, emails scoured for "marketing data", it is enough to make the paranoid skin crawl. Unless you plan on only communicating via parchment with sealing wax, you can safely assume anything you broadcast has to potential to be overheard.

So why fight it, tell the world what you really think, say it loud and say it proud. Say if often, and do not shy from letting your real identity be attached to your expressed thoughts. If "they" really want to know what I think, I'm going to tell them. I am not really worried about it. I am generally a law abiding citizen, I don't even cheat on my taxes.

For starters, I think the thought processes that go behind the decision making for our country are deeply flawed and short sighted. Defunding education (long term benefit) for bank bailouts and wars (no real or short term only benefits) is damaging the potential prosperity of our country. It is no longer in the realm of carefully weighted thought out planning, and has been infected by the kind of thinking that is rewarded in corporate environments that cycle quarter to quarter and sustainability beyond the next bonus cycle be damned.

It sends a clear message to me, that the people that hold offices directing our countries future are acting more for their own self interest than the long term interests of our country. They are failing us. Let me make clear that I am not entirely against the corporate model for business, it makes sense, businesses compete for survival and grow stronger because of it. But we cannot afford to have our country compete principally on short term goals, we need to build long term sustainable solutions to our problems for real strength. A kind of strength no corporation will ever understand.

Now all i have to do is put some hot words in here like "Terrorist plot" or "Bioweapon" and it will raise a red flag on a computer program and some poor soul in homeland security will have to read through my many pages of drivel to see if there is anything worth augmenting my file over. (sorry who ever you are, I know my writing is a little pedantic, I apologize).

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sunday book review

Richard Dawkins has written a number of rather controversial books. "The Blind Watchmaker" really shouldn't be one of them. Passage after passage he spells out the theory of evolution by natural selection in the most basic terms possible. If more convincing argumentation for the widespread acceptance of evolution exists, i am not aware of it.

Especially important is his treatment on "irreducible complexity". The often trotted out idea that something that requires several different protein structures (for example) could not function as anything less than a whole. The simple and abundantly clear argument Dawkins makes is that often things get re-purposed in nature. What is now a flagella motor was once a much simpler proton pump that has been augmented many times over millions of years. Basically, nothing is truly irreducibly complex when you have millions of years and millions of years of changing environmental conditions leading to changes in selection pressures to work with.

Dawkins, while not a text book biologist, is probably one of the greatest writers on the subject of our time. I have several of his books in my library, but for anyone who has had to deal with backward anti-evolutionists this book is a must read. While not the most current of literature (the passage on his computer model inspires images of an apple 2E slowly trodding down a path written on a 5 1/2" floppy disc) it is not relegated to the history of acceptance of Darwinian theory section just yet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lifestyles: Little change, Big difference.

I totally get that many of the changes I have made in my personal life are not right for everyone. Owning a truck totally makes sense if you are a contractor and need to haul lumber and tools around.

Though I would like to see a tax system developed based on gross vehicle weight, something like $10 per hundred pounds over 2000lb GVW, with exemptions for businesses.

But that is not the topic i wish to discuss. Lets start out with PEI or "personal environmental impact". If you live a typical American lifestyle you probably have a much higher PEI than you expect. Lots of collateral damage is being done on behalf of consumers by large distributors, energy producers, manufacturers and growers. I once read that a kiwi fruit imported from New Zealand to a north american market has a carbon foot print roughly equal to the weight of the fruit its self.

With so many factors, it is hard to get a real handle on your PEI, this is often the justification many use for not attempting to positively effect it. Another commonly used argument is "if i don't buy it, someone else will", (The logic of this never really made sense to me) but that misses two key points. One, you vote everyday with your dollar, if you choose to make a purchase from a company, you are telling them "I agree with your business model". Second, now they have to import two of the item, one for you and one for the other person.

American consumerism is directly linked to individualistic thinking. There is an active propaganda to limit a persons ability to think of them selves as a part of a consumer base. When consumers make decisions based on collectivist ideals, corporations sometimes lose, and there for stop advertising on media. Media depends on advertising dollars to function. Therefor it is in the self interest of media sources to maintain the zeitgeist of individualism.

A little research can go a long way in determining what business models you wish to support and which you think are an affront to your personal morals. We live in a day and age where you can access more information on your phone walking in a grocery, then most people have had access too through out history. To choose not to use it, I argue, is the greatest crime.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sunday book review.

This week's suggestion by Peter Nichols is a must have for any science historian. I have read several books regarding the acceptance of evolution in society and in science. "Evolution's Captain" weaves the famous voyage of the Beagle into a historical drama while sticking with a zealots resolve to the primary source material. As well known as Darwin is, the Captain Robert FitzRoy has been swept under the carpet of history, mostly because of his renouncement of Darwin in his declining years.

The famous stand off between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley; despite its lack of primary source material, is given a lively treatment as well. The focus of the later portion of the book deals with the captain's struggles with society painting a colorful picture of Great Britten's scientific and social community at its strongest expansionist state.

From an anthropological point of view, the story of encounters with the "Fuegans" in the early part of the book, speak volumes about culture clashes and inherent misunderstanding.

Never forget FitzRoy!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Economics as an ecosystem part 2

Given my model of a ecosystem, (and i encourage debate on the validity on the whole or in parts), how do banks and the bank bailouts fit in?

I see banks as near apex predators, they evolved from helpful benign organizations, into new roles as selecting agents. Now before people start assuming this is nothing more than a smear job against bankers, lets look at how apex predators fit into a healthy ecosystem.

Apex predators represent a strong selection pressure in the natural selection concept. They cull the weak and unfit from the herd to make the overall average health better. Banks should exist to cull unfit businesses from the economy. (you may recall my "Capitalism and Evolution" essay where I mused about what "Fittest" really ment.)

So what kind of event did the bank bailouts represent? Basically what we did was gather up all of the base of the food chain and stuffed it in the stomachs of the apex predators. This was a really bad idea. Apex predators generally don't produce the kind of effluent that "harvesters" need to survive. Like wise, I doubt any of the bankers are really thinking about what they can do two kick start the economy for the good of us all. So now, the apex predators might have a full gut, but the prey they usually feed on is starving because the energy didn't travel through all of the tiers to get to them.

That meal won't last forever, and once the hunger pangs start up again, they may very well find that there is nothing substantial around to eat. Furthermore apex praetors aren't really designed to eat that way, they digest the proteins of prey animals. Banks best digest failing business models.

What we should have done. If that money was spent at the bottom, to fund repair and replacement of our failing infrastructure for example, that would have meant jobs for a lot of "prey". The banks would have still gotten the money, but it wouldn't have come to them as empty calories. Now the only way for the "energy" to reenter the system is for the banks to die and be fed upon by the base organisms that turn decaying matter back into nutrients for the harvesters.

Lifestyles: Is 12v right for you?

On the outside, this seems like an impossibility. Living all most of one's life off of 12 volt power? Surely nobody does that, right?

Actually, many people do. Many of the devices you already own convert grid power to 12v or less. Mostly anything with a "wall wart" you know that big clunky plug that blocks the other outlet when you need it is converting 120v AC to 19v or as far down as 1.2v DC power. If you live on a boat or in an RV, chances are you have access to more 12vdc power than 120vac and have already changed many systems to accommodate. Cars have 12vdc systems too, so anything you have ever charged during your morning commute is part of your 12v lifestyle already.

So what does this have to do with being green? 120vac solar systems are expensive and complex. Generally they require a significant infrastructure investment. (this is a pretty broad generalization mind you and the technology is changing everyday.) 12vdc systems are much more accessible and safer to work with for a hobbyist. I can imagine making a 12v wind generator with no more than a trip to the junk yard and a stop off at a hardware store on the way back. 

With a 12v system deployed, a secondary lighting system for your house using modern LED technology could add much more light to your surroundings, or power a stereo system based on off the shelf car stereo equipment. A well designed house could even use 12v fans to move air from different areas effectively making power hungry climate control a thing of the past. 

The only real limit is your imagination and resourcefulness. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lifestyles: Post-consumer

In an attempt to limit my personal environmental impact I have made some changes to the way I live over the years. Now somethings are pretty obvious; walking to work, avoiding disposable items like coffee cups, adjusting driving habits, are pretty obvious. Some adjustments require a bit more sacrifice or diligence than others and may never be adopted by everyone. For me it is worth it. This is not to say I have a  perfect record on these changes, just that I strive.

Post consumer lifestyle is one of my favorites. It is about more than just going to goodwill for pants and shirts, it is about becoming more informed as a consumer in general. I seek out post consumer options first for as many of my needs as I can. There are some obvious exemptions, like food, that fall into consumable goods and cannot be met in most cases by post consumer options. But I still consider the environmental of packaging or transportation (do i really need an out of season kiwi fruit that had to travel all the way from the southern hemisphere for example). 

The second exemption is durable goods. I walk a lot, I need good shoes, there is a post consumer option for shoes and I do own several pairs of second hand shoes. I have also purchased new pairs of shoes in the past. Generally when I purchase new items I look at how long will they last, If they are of a quality that most likely off set the energy expended in the manufacturing process and transportation required to retail them, I keep looking. I can imagine someone asking "how the crap do you know how much when into making them?" The short answer is, I don't. But I make educated guesses. If something is manufactured in china its transportation threshold is higher than something made in texas. If something is made with natural materials then it might have been produced in a less chemically intensive process than non-naturally occurring materials. 

A little bit of research goes a long way. Look up some of the companies that produce the products you consume most often. If everyone managed to decrease their personal impact by 1%, it would add up too huge positive change nation wide. 

The benefits of adding a little more time and thought to what and how you consume might surprise you in the long run. They don't call them "thrift stores" for nothing. Think about all the stuff you have wasted money on over the years that you didn't even use to it fullest potential, or it broke shortly after you got it, or you didn't even need it and it became more junk cluttered about your personal space. All of this could have been avoided with a little more mindful consuming. 

Don't forsake good for perfection! Even just making one little thing apart of your daily routine is enough, like buying a good quality reusable coffee cup. Keep trying. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Economics as an ecosystem.

I have said before that capitalism is predatory system, an extension of our own predatory nature as opportunists. Well lets apply a ecosystem model to the american economic model. Granted, I understand biological principals better than I understand the economy, but this is my blog and since few seem to want to comment to correct me, I am going to take it as silent agreement.

First of all, an ecosystem isn't quite the closed loop everyone was taught in elementary school. There has to be a point source of energy. In the natural world this is the sun. The next level up are the plants that harvest this energy from the sun to create chemical energy that (with very few exceptions like extremaphiles living on deep ocean volcanic vents) all life is ultimately dependent on. After that comes (and I am grossly over simplifying this) are the organisms that feed on mostly or strictly on plant matter. Beyond that are carnivores up to apex predators.

So our base level is one in the same. According to Jared Diamond and his superbly researched "Guns, Germs, and Steel", human civilization didn't begin to develop until after the domestication of staple crops. Once we were able to generate a surplus of food and do it on the same land year in and year out, we were able to transition from hunter/gather groups into more complex social stratification. Ultimately, everything you own from the computer you are using to view this to the clothes you are wearing while reading this (and if you are not wearing clothes, er... well... this just got awkward) is all a result of the first human who figured out that planting seeds leads to regular harvests of food.

So farmers are our plankton if you will. Next up are the filter feeders, the shrimps and tiny organisms that live on what the plankton harvest from the sun. Now here is where it gets tricky, sunlight isn't all that is necessary for the subsection of the system to function. Money must flow back to the farmers (fertilizer, water, nutrients if you will) so they can use them to grow more crops. What good is having a half million brussel sprouts if you cannot exchange them for the goods and services you need. The next tier up and (this is important) all subsequent tiers after provide this to the farmer.

The role of the filter feeders is to transport and transmute the energy collected from the farmers to higher tiers. Laborers eat and work. Shrimp eat and get eaten. Money from labor earnings go back to the farmer. Effluent and decomposing bodies provide nutrients to plankton.

next time "the role of middlemen and how the bank bailouts probably will end up hurting the banks much more than it ever helped".

Idea for headphones. (and maybe saving the planet)

I don't have a pair of cans (you know, those huge headphones from the seventies), but if i did i would be worried about the amount of energy they would consume and the effect of such consumption on the battery life of the device they are plugged into.

Part of the design of over-ear headphones, the strap at the top might be a perfect place to put a DSSC type solar collector. It would be minimally visible and might be capable of generating enough power to amplify the sound in the headphones with out drawing on the device's battery too heavily.

Please, if someone smarter than I am works out the math to see if it is viable and develops it as a product, could you send me a pair for coming up with the idea?

On a greener note. Roof tops world wide have a range of options for durable covering. Some "permanent" roofing solutions can be quite expensive. How close would a DSSC doped roofing comp be to the price of higher end comp roofs? What I am thinking is, for the longest time people have been trying to make solar compact and efficient. Well, why? With hundreds of available square feet on every roof top, capable of generating even low voltage for a secondary lighting system or climate controls, the net gain would be much greater on a large scale than convincing home owners to purchase expensive stand alone systems.

Doped comp could be deployed much like regular comp, only with a copper band under it placed in such a way that the act of nailing the comp down would complete the circuit. A diode placed at the end of each band (near the eves of the house) tying the system together but preventing one bad tile from ruining more than a row. It would not have to be very efficient for it to be functional.

I came to this thought by thinking about how plants produce energy. they do not do it my having overly efficient systems, most of the space inside a chloroplast is empty, even most of the surface of a thylakoid inside is simple cell membrane. So how do they support so much of life on earth? with overwhelming numbers. Millions of photo-systems per leaf, millions of chloroplasts per plant, millions of plants on the planet, until the amount of potential energy created in a single instant is mind boggling. As opposed to one central mechanism that creates energy for a group of trees (like the model we have for power distribution).

Another benefit would be energy stability. A leaf can be removed from a tree with out the tree immediately dying. If we lose a power generating station, our grid is significantly effected. In my decentralized model, if one house burns down, very few other houses (if any) will notice an effect to their power.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

A new form of democracy.

I have been thinking more about a theoretical access based democratic process.

Section one.
1.1Anyone should have access to all forms of interaction on the site. This includes; messages to and from representatives, all topic discussion boards and threaded comments, and a passive up or down system to encourage constructive input.

1.2The passive interaction could have options like; "I mostly agree", "I disagree but the argument does have some merit", "I agree", "Non-constructive input","Off topic". Arguments that have a strong positive response would be placed higher in a ranking order (towards top of page) and vice versa. Individuals however would not be "ranked" so no one would receive more visibility automatically, and plagiarism would be punished with lower ranking. If a non original idea or concept is used, options for showing cited work like an included link is acceptable.

1.3Individual voting records would however remain private, with the exception of those who are representatives. A page with your voting record, the voting records of your representatives and the results from the consensus will be displayed.

1.4.1Formatting (abstract), After logging in first I see a home screen with; issues and topics you have chosen to watch, and voting records. When an issue is selected, I see a split screen, one side is the issue and the current vote totals chart. On the other side the two top arguments under the heading "For" and "Against" or in the case of multiple options, listed in side by side. Selecting arguments would take you away from the voting screen, and side by side ranked arguments would be listed and would scroll together. Threads to comments on arguments would be linked at the bottom of a argument and ranked.

1.4.2At the top of every page, options for "Publish Argument" "Propose topic" and links to things like access to information on who your policy makers are (based on the district you live in, state, and city, etc,), timelines for voting (when the information for a particular issue will be reviewed by the policy maker, or when his or her vote is due), Issue and topic lists separated under "local" "state" "federal" links, "currently popular Issues" and search option for records and current issues.

1.5New arguments would be marked "unranked" or "New argument" if it has been recently posted and has a low percentage of rankings. Modifying an arguments visibility would only possible for the group you voted with. You would still be able to thread a comment to an opposing argument, but it would not be automatically visible to those who have not yet voted and would be subject to modification by that voting group.

1.6Voting. Once you have voted on a issue, you can still read both ranked arguments. If you are convinced to change your mind, you may change your vote, however this will be tracked and if impropriety is apparent you may lose or have limited ranking influence in the future based on a three strikes punishment system. This is to prevent people from modifying poor arguments up for an opposing side of an issue.

1.7.1Impropriety would include; changing votes directly before issue closes often (more than once or twice historically on different issues), changing votes several times on one issue, and or any combination with apparent manipulation of argumentation.

1.7.2In the event an individuals comments or arguments get a net loss of ranking past a threshold, that individuals voting record could be anonymously reviewed for impropriety. The threshold would be determined by a percentage of the number of issues or topics commented on or the number of arguments proposed. The review would be done by a review board. To protect the identity of the individual being reviewed, only the data of record will be available to reviewers and the number of times the individual has been reviewed in the past and any convictions for plagiarism.

1.7.3Plagiarism would be reviewed by an anonymous board. Flagging someone for plagiarism must include a statement (that includes links to non-cited material) to be presented as evidence. If you are flagged for plagiarism, you will be notified. The notification will include the flagging statement(s), you may augment your argument or comment to include a link to the non-cited material (this action will be noted on the defense). You may write a rebuttal as well that will be presented with the defense. If convicted, your argument or comment would lose all or most ranking clout. Generally, augmented arguments or comments that now include citations would be forgiven.

1.7.4The review board(s) would consist of anonymous randomly selected members of the voting public. The only constraints placed on who would be included would be limitations of ranking influence from convictions. Selection would be done by notification, and the review its self should be a quick and easy process. A link in the notification will bring the reviewer to a case specific page, with either the pertinent records or a split screen with the accusation and defense. After reviewing the information including threaded comments from others who have voted, they would vote one of three ways, "Acquittal with out prejudice" where it is entirely expunged from the record. "Acquittal with prejudice" where no punishment is determined but the accusation will be on the individuals record for future review boards to consider. "Conviction" where the individual would receive a punishment. These votes cannot be changed.

1.7.5Punishments will never include voting rights. They would however include comment and/or argument ranking modification for a specific period of time. First offence would be one year of limited or loss of ranking modification powers. Second offence would be two years of limited or loss of ranking modification powers and one year of loss of comment and argumentation powers. Third and further offenses would be a two year loss of ranking modification powers and a two year loss of comment and argumentation powers.

1.7.6The vote of the review board would be available to the accused as well as any comments made between them. Appeal is an option but the punishment would be in place until the appeal results come in. The appeal process would be identical to the original review process but with a different group of peers. Comments between reviewers must not include any information that might be used to identify any party involved including the reviewers and the accused.

1.7.8Plagiarism reviews will include the record of both the flagging member and the accused in respect to the number of times they have been convicted of plagiarism or flagged others for plagiarism. Excessive, or errant flagging could lead to a record review for the flagging individual. Errant meaning flagging when not warranted as determined by the review board.

1.7.9The right to a speedy trial would be preserved. A review should be completed within one week of notification. Notification is considered to take place on the day the individual logs into their account. notifications to reviewers would take place twenty four hours after the individual is notified in order to give them time to prepare a defense and/or augment a comment/argument.

Section two.
2.1If you choose to propose a topic it must gain sponsorship from a representative or receive a minimum threshold of "signatures" in order to become an issue. A link to the page of "unsponsered" topics would be on the home screen. The argumentation you provide would be highest ranked at first, until it becomes a voting issue.

2.2Topic proposals must be single issue specific and would also be ranked on the un-sponsored list. The ranking system for un-sponsored topics would be limited to "I agree (denotes signature)", and "I somewhat agree (not signed but gains rank)". Topics could therefor only move up the list or die on the bottom for lack of support but never blocked.

2.3All Comments would be threaded to such topics and ranked by the standard comment/argument ranking system. The original author of a topic could add a link to a new form of the argument if it is decided revision is needed, all signatories would be notified when ever a topic is augmented. (I use augmented instead of edited, because the original argument once published is permanent as public record.) In the case of multiple authors of a single topic, they will all hold equal weight as "original signatories" and must act unanimously.

2.4Rescinding support for a topic would be possible, but your record would still show both actions, and monitored for impropriety.

2.5Thresholds for topics and issues, including signatures, are based on the percentage of the voting public that participates. They will start at fifty percent and will be adjusted by a yearly vote. Unless amended, The threshold cannot be adjusted more than ten percent in one year.

2.6Issues that are amendments to this document must carry a two thirds majority in order to take effect, including the yearly threshold adjustment.

Section Three
3.1Any Representative that chooses to participate in this system must do so altruistically. This means campaigning through this system is strictly prohibited. Fundraising or seeking personal profit is also strictly prohibited. A representative's voting and sponsorship record is permanent and cannot be edited. Augmenting with argumentation is allowed but only as a link from a particular vote no text will be automatically visible.

3.2A representative who chooses to sponsor a topic or withdraw sponsorship does so publicly and it will be noted on their permanent record. In the event they choose to withdraw support for a topic that has become a voting issue, the original author and all signatories will be notified. Citizens who have voted for or against the issue will also be notified.

3.3A representative cannot lobby for rank modification of comments or argumentation. They are allowed equal comment, argumentation, and rank modification rights as any citizen. This is intended to limit influence of the voting public by any one entity.

3.4A representative is not exempt from the anonymous review process. Any judgments by a review board will be noted on the representative's public record after a grace period for the appeal process not to exceed three weeks.

 (i doubt any one made it this far reading all this but hey, it is worth a shot right) comments welcome here or on twitter @marcqmindaccess.

Sunday book review


Of all the empty campaign promises to come out of republican candidates this election season, one that grabbed my attention more than most of the others had to do with putting a manned base on the moon. Out side of the questions about the utility of such a venture, many of the questions regarding the feasibility can be found in Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars”.

Have you ever thought about how it would be possible to use the bathroom in a gravity-less environment? Or take care of hygienic needs? Or what kind of foods are chosen and why? All this and much more is explored, sometimes in vivid detail, with a sense of humor. Some of the stories in this impeccably researched book give pause to that the five year old in side of all of us who wanted to be astronaut, as we now imagine that child astronaut going through the horrible ordeals that many of our nations heroes have endured.

Also, on a different note, I think this book would make a great gift for anyone, not necessarily because of the subject, but because the way the material is presented makes book research sound like much more fun than I am sure it is in real life. I guess my inner five year old has a new dream.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday book Review


Hey guess what! Science doesn’t have to be stuffy and boring to read at all! For this weeks Sunday book review I present “Parasite Rex” and “The Hot Zone”. A number of years ago I decided to give up reading fiction. When I was younger I really enjoyed reading sci-fi, but once I started studying science I worried that my imagination might get the better of me.

In “The Hot Zone” Richard Preston takes a true story of pathology and writes suspense and character development into it as though it was the work or King or Crichton. Even more striking than fiction though when occasionally you put down the book and it takes a moment to realize “oh shit, this really happened!”. The description of the CDC Hazmat lab is real enough to launch you into the world of the scientists right from the opening pages of the book. Truly consuming.

In keeping with the pathology theme for the day Carl Zimmer’s book “Parasite Rex” explores the life cycles of several different types of parasites, some of which take truly extraordinary journeys through many different phases on the way to adulthood. Now I can hear you reading this, and saying “eww, paracites? Like tape worms? Gross!” Well if you don’t see reading the book for entertainment value, maybe you should read it under the philosophy of Sun Tzu who teaches “Know your self and know your enemy and you need not fear the outcome of a thousand battles”.

Who knows, maybe demystifying some of this stuff might just save your life someday.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Capitalism and Evolution?


I have heard evolutionary theory trotted out lately as an analogy for capitalistic systems. On the cover it almost looks like it works, strong companies survive and weak ones adapt or perish. But a closer examination of the concept of the “fittest” (as in “survival of the fittest”) does not match very many successful business models of today.

First lets create a working definition of “fittest” in evolutionary biology terms. When you examine a individual’s fitness what you are directly asking is this individual member of a population more likely or less likely to have offspring then the average of the entire population. Now despite being granted personhood (as well as doing a lot of screwing, I know BofA has screwed me lately) most companies are incapable of reproducing. So how does our model of fitness apply?

Sustainability, is the model of fitness in evolutionary capitalism. How long will this company be able to do business? What kind of sustainable adaptations will increase the success of this business? Is this business a predator or prey? If predatory, what kinds of checks and balances are in place to make sure it doesn’t out strip supply and starve? What role in the greater ecosystem of commerce does this company play? What sub-systems does this company rely on to function? Is all of the necessary sub-systems and the entire system in general sustainable?

If you really want to apply evolution to capitalism, these are the questions that need to be asked.

How is sustainability the model of fitness in evolutionary capitalism? Simply, for a company to have an effect on a market or even its individual employees that might effect other companies down the road, it must sustain its self for a minimum length of time. A sustainable business model is a successful business model, now this is where things start to break down in real life. Most people who have money tied up in a company are do not doing so altruistically, they expect to personally harvest profit and the sooner the better. It is as though your kidney was capable of surviving with out you but wanted your help growing as big as it can before it bails out and leaves you unable to process fluids any longer.

You might get lucky and have another kidney take its place, and hope that it doesn't leverage a lot of growth debt from other organs before it bails out (remember the kidney is only responsible to the cells that make it up, not to the rest of you). Please note that none of this happens in nature. Sooner or later if the health of an organism declines, the individual organs, no matter how healthy they may be, will suffer.

What about the predator prey relationship? I immediately think insurance. Yes, indemnity companies are predators and the general public is the prey. Now the concept of insurance might have started out rather benignly, but what it has become is predatory. Once insurance became compulsory and litigation benefiting individuals was limited, the system became inherently predatory. Need further proof? The only companies that seem to be unaffected as a group in terms of advertising budgets by the economic down turn are exclusively in the insurance market. They are however limited to the amount they are allowed to harvest by a governmental agency and competition.

I have more on this, but it might have to wait for a second post.